First reading: Gen. 15:5–12,17–18
The Lord God took Abram outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.
He then said to him, “I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession.” “O Lord GOD,” he asked, “how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He answered him, “Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” Abram brought him all these, split them in two, and placed each half opposite the other; but the birds he did not cut up. Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses, but Abram stayed with them. As the sun was about to set, a trance fell upon Abram, and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.
When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those pieces. It was on that occasion that the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”
Second reading: Phil. 3:17–4:1
Join with others in being imitators of me, brothers and sisters, and observe those who thus conduct themselves according to the model you have in us. For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their “shame.” Their minds are occupied with earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord.
Gospel: Lk. 9:28b–36
Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
In other words Fr. Samuel Agcaracar, SVD (Divine Word Seminary, Tagaytay City)
Throughout his ministry, Jesus made innumerable impressive claims. He spoke of the coming of the kingdom, his passion, death, and resurrection. He spoke of this rule and authority as the Son of God. His followers witnessed the effects of his extraordinary ministry: the sick recovered, evil spirits fled, the dead raised to life. Yet, they never actually saw the kingdom Jesus has been preaching about all along until the Transfiguration event in today’s Gospel.
Rather than focusing only on the Transfiguration event, I would like to consider all the readings today. These readings reflect three prevailing themes—a call, a response in faith, a corresponding reward.
The first reading narrates the Lord God, who took Abram outside and showed him the sky and asked him to count the stars as he could. Abram responded in faith. Submitting himself to the ritual the Lord prescribed, he would eventually be bestowed the promise of inheritance and descendants.
In our second reading, Paul exhorts the Philippians to imitate him by using himself as a negative example of putting stock in one’s accomplishments before God. He now regards these as rubbish for the sake of knowing Christ. He urges the Philippians not to imitate false teachers who value external ritual practices. Instead, he encourages them to respond in faith by throwing off all external markers for the pursuit of sharing in Christ’s suffering and resurrection. Such a faith response guarantees them of their citizenship in heaven. The general longing for the impending return of Christ must have been a much-desired reward for every follower of Christ during that period.
The story of Jesus’ Transfiguration is also the story of a covenant being established in Jesus Christ. Thus, there is an interplay of the call, faith, and reward components. The reward is accorded to Peter, James, and John, who experienced the glimpse of Jesus’ heavenly throne, although fleeting as it might seem to be. Their experience of the Transfiguration must have strengthened them to follow Jesus up to Calvary. This event helped these disciples live and strengthen their faith.
What about us? What reward do we expect from the Lord for our response to the call of discipleship? In Paul’s words, it is our inheritance as citizens of heaven. In Abram’s case, it was his inheritance of the land and countless generations.
Instead of asking what reward we get, we should ask ourselves: How do we live up our faith in light of our calling to follow and serve him? After all, every reward is a consequence of an authentic faith response.